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Project 2025: An introduction

President Donald Trump

Project 2025 offers a conservative plan for the first 180 days of a second Trump administration.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Breslin is the Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. Chair of Political Science at Skidmore College and author of “A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation’s Fundamental Law.”

This is part of a series offering a nonpartisan counter to Project 2025, a conservative guideline to reforming government and policymaking during the first 180 days of a second Trump administration. The Fulcrum's cross partisan analysis of Project 2025 relies on unbiased critical thinking, reexamines outdated assumptions, and uses reason, scientific evidence, and data in analyzing and critiquing Project 2025

The Framers of America’s Constitution feared the rise of the demagogue, the self-styled leader who can manipulate the masses, often in their own self-interest, against the polity’s traditional political elite. George Washington was particularly attuned to such a possibility. In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette he confessed fearing a movement “by some aspiring demagogue who will not consult the interest of his country so much as his own ambitious views.”

Americans should dread any demagogic movement — from the left or the right. Indeed, American citizens should remain vigilant against any effort to design political systems, policies, enactments or actions around the cult of personality. In practical terms, we should reject any attempt to lionize the likes of Joe Biden or Donald Trump, Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan. It’s about the institutions in America; it’s always been about the institutions. America’s system of separate powers, checks and balances, bicameralism, federalism, and the like works only if formal political power is distributed — not concentrated — and political branches — not individuals or parties — maintain their institutional integrity. Effective government has always required institutional collaboration.

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Sadly, “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise” — the Heritage Foundation’s 800-plus-page playbook for Trump’s first 180 days in office, commonly known as Project 2025 — spurns that crucial lesson. Kevin Roberts, the organization’s outspoken president, wrote the foreword. In it, he describes the purpose of Project 2025, the four conservative promises, and, dispiritingly, his enemy. “This book, this agenda, the entire Project 2025,” he announces, “is a plan to unite the conservative movement and the American people against elite rule and woke culture warriors.” In Roberts’ own words, Project 2025 is a plan to “institutionalize Trumpism.” Institutionalize Trumpism? Cover your ears, Gen. Washington, sir.

Roberts briefly outlines the components of the plan. The next conservative president, he says, will focus on “four broad fronts that will decide America’s future”:

  1. Restore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children.
  2. Dismantle the administrative state and return self-governance to the American people.
  3. Defend our nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty against global threats.
  4. Secure our God-given individual rights to live freely — what our Constitution calls the “Blessings of Liberty.”

All four, save the nod to natural, God-given rights and the use of the term “dismantle” to streamline the administrative state, are by themselves laudable goals. I can’t imagine the left protesting too loudly. And yet the devil, as always, is in the details. Restoring the family as the centerpiece of American life and securing God-given individual rights, we come to realize, are a sort of shorthand for a Christian nationalist agenda. The only family Roberts embraces is the traditional one.

Reading on, we further discover that “defending the nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty” are fashionable buzz words for a neo-isolationist foreign policy. You’re on your own President Zelensky, Roberts is saying. He then takes direct aim at “transgender ideology,” “critical race theory,” DEI initiatives, intersectionality, positionality, socialism, “Big Tech,” TikTok, green energy, progressive school libraries and on. And on. And on. Now I can hear the left objecting.

The buckshot approach to political warfare — pull the trigger and try to destroy everything in eyesight — is preferred nowadays by both the right and the left. Roberts employs it here. The America Roberts envisions may reject wokeness, but it also forsakes the splendor of good old-fashioned tolerance. And therein lies the rub. Shouldn’t we teach our children (as Jesus did) to be tolerant of others? Doesn’t the ability to live freely mean that we won’t pass judgment on those who freely decide to live authentically? Doesn’t self-governance mean that majority support for abortion rights, gay rights, separation of church and state, open dialogue, robust library shelves and so on ought to prevail?

I’ve never met Kevin Roberts or the other creators of Project 2025, and I’m going to assume they’re not evil. But neither are they helping. Their solution to a declining America is to flatten the proverbial strawman. Enough, we say! The time has come for a new approach. It seems so clear that a cross-partisan effort to solve America’s wicked problems is the only answer. Let us begin.

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